What is a Breakaway on a Travel Trailer?

The breakaway system on a trailer is designed to bring the trailer to a safe stop if the trailer gets detached from the towing vehicle. The system activates the electric brakes on the trailer causing it to stop. The breakaway system is very important from the safety point of view and is a must have.


A trailer might get disconnected while you are driving for many reasons. So, when that happens, make sure that the electric brakes come to play. That’s because the trailer might cause significant damages by colliding with other vehicles.



How does a breakaway system work?

There are three components in a breakaway system: a battery, switch, and pin & cable. The trailer should have an operational electric braking system, the battery should remain charged, and the switch cable has to be connected to the towing vehicle.



The switch and battery are wired together and attached to the trailer. Also, they are connected to the electric braking system. One end of the cable is attached to the breakaway switch and another end to the towing vehicle. If the trailer disconnects, the cable pulls out the pin.



As such, the switch gets triggered and the battery power and the electric brakes come into action by bringing the trailer to a stop.



  • Battery – Most of the breakaway kits are powered by a 12-volt battery. The battery is kept in a black plastic enclosure. And, it has to be fully charged before using it for the first time. Also, makes sure it has a lifespan of at least 2 years.



When the pin gets pulled from the switch, the activated breakaway system can drain the battery power quickly. However, some batteries get recharged from the towing vehicle, whereas others need a solar or electric charger.



  • Switch – The switch is the most important component in the operation. That’s because the switch decides when the breakaway system should activate. It is placed in the trailer and connected with a 12-volt battery.



The switch activates the system after the pin gets pulled out in the towing vehicle. As such, the electric braking system in the trailer is engaged and it brings the trailer to a standstill.



  • Cable & pin – A cable is connected to one end of the pin inserted in the breakaway kit and secured properly at another end of the towing vehicle. In general, the cable should be anywhere between 44 and 48 inches long. It makes sure that the trailer brakes are applied as soon as the trailer gets detached from the vehicle.



The cable must be connected to a secure point on the towing vehicle. The tow bar should be avoided. This ensures that the system works in cases where the tow bar detaches itself from the vehicle.



Do you need a breakaway on your trailer?

When it comes to safety measures and legal responsibilities, you must install a breakaway system. The breakaway system is a must when it is about towing your caravan or trailer safely. Also, it becomes necessary to install one because there are strict guidelines under the road safety rules.



Certain regulations might vary depending on where you live, but the standard requirement has to be followed under every circumstance. Here are the standard regulations surrounding the use of the breakaway system.



  • For a gross trailer mass of up to 750kg, there is no need for a trailer electric braking system
  • Between 751kg and 2000kg gross trailer mass, a braking system is required on either one of the wheels. However, the brakes could be either mechanical or electric. And, no breakaway system is needed
  • And, for gross trailer mass between 2001kg and 4500kg, electric braking is a must-have on all the wheels. Hence, a trailer breakaway unit is required



So, these are the requirement where you need to have a breakaway unit installed in your trailer. It brings safety on the road so that all kinds of unfortunate events could be stopped.



How to check the breakaway switch on a trailer?

Here are simple steps through which you can test whether the breakaway system should work at the right time when it is required the most.



  • Bring the towing vehicle and trailer to a safe place where you can check. Remove the harness plug in the trailer from the towing vehicle.
  • Next, pull the pin out from the switch. You have to apply a bit of extra force to detach the pin. About 35-foot pounds of force might be needed, or even more.
  • Now, pull the trailer with the help of a few people in the forward direction. The forward motion of the trailer is needed because the braking shoes have to come in contact with the drum. The shoe will expand according to the rotating motion of the wheel while the drum forces against the shoe. In short, when the trailer is moved away, the motion of the wheel pulls the braking shoe tightly against the wheel drum. And, in the process increases the braking force.
  • Move the trailer forward without stopping. The trailer would cease to move freely than usual. The wheels will freeze and the trailer won’t move.
  • If the trailer moves with ease, there might be issues in the braking system. Or, the switch itself.
  • If the test is successful, insert the pin back in the breakaway switch. Connect the wiring harness between the towing vehicle and the trailer.



If the test failed, the whole system needs to be diagnosed thoroughly by an expert. And, you shouldn’t tow the trailer until the breakaway unit including the braking system is repaired.



Is a breakaway system required?

There are several reasons why the trailer might get disconnected from the towing vehicle. And, the results could be devastating. If the trailer detaches itself from the vehicle while driving, the heavy trailer could roll into the oncoming vehicles.


It could even roll down into nearby areas and cause significant destruction. Also, the cargo inside the trailer could be damaged. If the breakaway system operates in time after the trailer gets disconnected, the electric brakes are engaged and the trailer stops.

A Breakaway System is a must-have.